Nicholas and Alexandra: mashing up history can't make this pair lovable | Film | The Guardian
Did Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna, the Last Empress of Russia, exile and eventual execution (the Tsarina was the wife of Tsar Nicholas II, and But did the Tsarina really have relations with the monk? . A Part of Hearst Digital Media Town & Country participates in various affiliate marketing programs. Tsar Nicholas II of Russia with his wife Alexandra and their five He decided the stability of marriage would be good for his son, and as. A fairytale match, the story of Nicholas II and Alexandra is one of love to give up her faith, effectively declining Nicholas' offer for marriage.
From Germany, Alexandra hurried to Livadia, a small palace in Russia, where the tsar awaited his final breath. It is said that the tsar, while willing to finally give his blessing to Alexandra, was unwilling to see her unless he was wearing a full uniform.
Nicholas was wrecked with sadness and feared he was not ready for the throne. She made her first public appearance in Russia at the funeral of her would-be father-in-law. They had five children in quick succession. So when Alexandra became pregnant only a few months into the marriage, Russia was overjoyed. This birth, however, turned out to be a disappointment, as instead of an heir, a princess by the name of Olga was born.
The couple did not give up though, as Alexandra continuously gave birth to three girls—Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia—in the span of six years. Eventually, inthe couple was finally blessed with a son, whom they named Alexei. This did not stop the couple from devoting everything to all their children, as Alexandra herself took to caring for them. Unlike most royals of the time, she fed her children from her own breast and taught them all that she was taught in her childhood, such as making the bed and baking cakes.
The daughters, in particular, grew up to be beautiful and well-educated women—all well liked by everyone and popular with the Russian people. Alexei too was well loved. His sisters worshiped him. He was his parents' pride and joy. When he was well, the palace was transformed.
In her persistent regard for these Martha-like cares, the Empress was entirely German and entirely English - certainly not Russian. In the first days of the revolution, when all the imperial children were ill with measles, Lili Dehn discovered to her surprise that the Empress not only knew, how to make a bed, but was also 'especially expert in changing sheets and nightclothes in a few minutes without dlsturbmg the patients' Alix commented, 'Lili.
When I was a girl, my grandmother, Queen Victoria, showed me how to make a bed. I learnt to do useful things in England. In any case, Princess Alice had always remained 'intensely English', and 'life in the Palace was organised on English lines, and was so carried on after the Princess's death'.
The nursery, ruled over by Mrs Orchard, operated according to the English system of fresh air, simple food and a strictly observed timetable. Thence, Alix graduated to an English governess, Miss]ackson, an intelligent woman under whose direction 'the princesses were trained to talk on abstract subjects'. Not surprisingly, 'English was, of course, her natural language' and England the focus for many of her loyalties.
There was no justice whatever in this, for Alix never had the remotest loyalty to the Prussian-dominated German Reich or to its ruler, Wilhelm II. Had war broken out between Russia and Britain, however, as was entirely possible at any time between andAlix would most certainly, and more justifiably, have been denounced as an Englishwoman. Such was the inevitable fate of a foreign consort amidst the nationalist passions of late Victorian Europe.
In later life Queen Victoria became doubtful of the wisdom of dynastic marriages through which her daughters and granddaughters were exposed to the strains and perils that faced foreign queens at European courts.
It was Alix, for whom the Queen had particular affection, who was to confront these perils in their most cruel form. Not surprisingly, Victoria's joy at her granddaughter's love for Nicholas and her splendid marriage was tempered by fear for her fate on such a great, but also such a dangerous, throne. The most tragic inheritance Alix received from her mother and grandmother was, however, the disease of haemophilia. This hereditary ailment is generally transmitted through females but strikes only males.
Its effect is to stop the blood from clotting which, in the era before blood transfusions, was a certain recipe for prolonged suffering and offered the probability of an early death. Queen Victoria's son, Leopold, was killed by this disease, from which Princess Alice's younger son also appears to have suffered. At first glance, therefore, it might seem extraordinary that the Romanovs could allow the heir to the throne to run the medical risks that marriage to Alix entailed.
In fact, Alexander III and his wife clearly knew nothing about the disease or the risks involved. Although Alix's elder sister had married the Grand Duke Serge the couple were childless, so the Russian imperial family had had no reason to confront the issue of haemophlia. Of course, having seen the disease destroy one of her sons, Queen Vlctoria herself must have known something about It. But the Queen can hardly be accused of deceiving the Romanovs or exposing them deliberately to danger, since she had done her utmost to persuade Alix to marry the Duke of Clarence, who stood in the direct line of succession to the British throne.
The issue of haemophilia was 'a highly delicate matter rarely discussed in. The whole subject was more or less taboo while Queen Victoria was alive. Of Queen Victoria's four sons only one was affected. Nor was haemophilia transmitted through her eldest daughter, Victoria, to Kaiser Wilhelm II, as could very easily have happened.
Instead it was the descendants of her second and fourth daughters, Alice and Beatrice, who were affected. Even had the risks been better understood, however, it is by no means certain how Nicholas and his parents would have reacted. In Japan in a huge political storm was caused by revelations that the intended bride of Crown Prince Hirohito came from a family in which colour blindness was a common affliction. The idea that any kind of hereditary ailment might be introduced by marriage into the imperial family caused justified consternation.
By contrast European royalty appears to have been extraordinarily careless about such matters. To preserve royalty's status, cousins inter. Haemophilia was treated no differently. Infor instance, the possibility of a marriage between the Romanian Crown Prince and Nicholas II's eldest daughter was widely canvassed without anyone, seemingly, raising the issue of haemophilia. Alfonso seems, however, to have shrugged off these warnings, subsequently never forgiving his wife for the fact that two of his four sons were haemophiliacs.
Nicholas II's case was more tragic than that of Alfonso in the sense that his only son, born at the end of his wife's child-bearing days, was struck by the disease. It is a measure of the Tsar's sensitive and chivalrous nature not to mention his deep love for Alix, that never once did he blame her for 'the fact that', in Alfonso's words, 'my heir has contracted an infirmity which was carried by my wife's family and not mine'. Haemophilia helped to destroy Alfonso's marriage, causing him to turn away from his wife in bitterness and even revulsion.
If it were possible, their son's disease seemed to bring NIcholas and Alix closer together than ever. In the summer ofhowever, all thoughts of tragedy and disease were far from Nicholas's mind.
The Tsarevich and his fiancee were deeply in love, In June he received his parents' permission to visit Alix in England. The day after his arrival he wrote in his diary, 'What happiness I felt, waking up this morning, when I remembered that I was living under one roof with my dear Alix.
To guard against such misadventures Alix had carefully inserted loving messages in his diary for weeks in advance. Told by Nicholas of his affair with Ksheshinskaya, Alix wrote, 'God forgives us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us. In January Alexander had been very unwell, his doctors stating that the problem was influenza. Alarm spread in court and government circles, where it was recognized, in the words of General Kireev, that for all his 26 years the heir was still a child, with little training to take over the reins of government.
By early March fears for Alexander's life had passed, but Lambsdorff reported that 'our monarch appears thinner, above all in the face; his skin has become flabby and he has aged greatly'. By late summer the Tsar's increasing tiredness was again causing worry, though not yet alarm. Professor Zakharin, brought in for consultations from Moscow, calmed the imperial family by saying that Alexander's life was not at risk.
Nevertheless, he and Dr Leyden agreed on a diagnosis of nephritis, complicated by 'exhaustion from huge and never-ending mental work'.
The Tsar stuck to his autumn routine of visiting his hunting lodge at Spala in Poland, but on 30 September he was forced to decamp to the Crimea, whose warm climate would, it was hoped, help him to recover. Although in early October Alexander was still travelling in the Crimea, by the middle of the month he was sometimes confined to bed all day and the Tsarevich had begun to read state documents on his father's behalf. Two days later Alix arrived, Nicholas commenting, 'what joy to meet her in my own country and to have her so close - half my cares and souow seem to fall from my shoulders'.
His appalled heir commented in his diary: The Lord has called to himself our adored, dear, deeply loved Papa. This was the death of a Saint!
God help us in these sad days! Together with the numbing shock of the loss came awareness of the new and enormous responsibilities which he was ill-equipped to face. The day-to-day business of government, including audiences with ministers and receptions for other officials, bore down upon him.
The endless series of religious services following the death of an Orthodox monarch took up much of his time. Still worse were the many receptions for Russian and foreign delegations who arrived for Alexander's funeral and to pay their respects to the new monarch.
Frequently Nicholas had to make speeches at these receptions, something to which he was little accustomed and which caused him great strain. Worst of all in a way were the innumerable members of foreign royal families who descended on Petersburg for the funeral and who had to be met at railway stations, accommodated in the imperial palaces and treated with due deference and attention.
On 18 December, the eve of the funeral, Nicholas received so many delegations that 'my head was dizzy'. Two days later, after greeting and dining with two hundred guests, 'I almost howled'. On 26 November court mourning was lifted for a day and Nicholas and Alix were married.
Two days later the Tsar was so busy that he only saw his wife for one hour. Not surprisingly, the strain told on him. Alix who was her husband's aunt by marriage wrote in Nicholas's diary, 'it's not good to grind your teeth at night, your aunt can't sleep'. The new monarch appeared rather lost in his role. On 13 November Lambsdorff commented that 'the young emperor, evidently, was shy about taking his proper place; he is lost in the mass of foreign royalties and grand dukes who surround him'.
On 27 January Lambsdorff again noted that 'His Majesty still lacks the external appearance and manner of an emperor. Lambsdorff remarked that 'His Majesty goes too far in his modesty. Comparing the appearance of Nicholas II at his coronation with that of his father thirteen years before, Princess Radzivill remarked that, 'there, where a mighty monarch had presented himself to the cheers and acclamations of his subjects, one saw a frail, small, almost insignificant youth, whose Imperial crown seemed to crush him to the ground, and whose helplessness gave an appearance of unreality to the whole scene'.
The Emperor and Empress were surrounded by people only too happy to score off a rival by repeating an incautious or critical remark. It took no time for Petersburg's opinion about the monarch's lack of will or stature to reach the ears of the imperial couple.
The main problem was that both Nicholas and Alix were themselves only too well aware of the Tsar's lack of experience and self-confidence. From her very first days in Russia Alix had tried to boost her husband's determination to assert himself.
Together with reminders of her and God's love came the call to show who was in charge. Don't let others be put first and you left out. You are [your] father's dear son and must be told all and be asked about everything. Show your own mind and don't let others forget who you are. It helped her greatly that her marriage was, and always remained, very happy.
For any young woman, however, the first months of married life can be difficult and few would relish a wedding which occurred one week after their father-in-Iaw's funeral. In Petersburg Alix knew no one. Even her sister Elizabeth, whose husband was Governor-General of Moscow, was seldom in the imperial capital.
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Nicholas himself was overwhelmed with work and saw little of his wife in the daytime. In the family circle Alix could speak her native English.
But outside it, in Petersburg society, Russian or French was necessary. The young Empress had only just begun to learn the former.
She was never very happy speaking the latter, which tended to desert her in moments of stress. In the first months of her marriage such moments were plentiful, for as Empress she was forced to be on perpetual show. Problems quickly arose with her mother-in-law. Because Nicholas's marriage had been arranged so hurriedly, no apartments were available in the Winter Palace or at Tsarskoe Selo until well into In the interim the young married couple had to live in four rooms in the Empress Marie's palace.
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Just like Queen Alexandra after Edward VII's death, the Empress Marie stressed her precedence over her son's wife in court ceremonies and hung on to many of the crown jewels, most of which should have gone to her daughter-in-law. Though the two empresses always remained on relatively polite terms they could scarcely have been more different. Alix was much more serious and intelligent but she sadly lacked her mother-in-law's vivacity or her social skills.
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Living under her mother-in-Iaw's roof, she quickly became aware of the many unfavourable comparisons being drawn between her and Marie in Petersburg society. The Petersburg aristocracy never liked the young Empress and by had come to hate her with quite extraordinary venom.
Neither Darmstadt nor Queen Victoria were much of a preparation for Petersburg. This was a world in which the following conversation could be overheard between two ultra-aristocratic youths: Queen Victoria, all of this might have come as less of a shock.25 Powerful Historical Photos of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia
Not even the Prince of Wales's circle, however, could have prepared Alix for the torrent of jealous, malicious gossip that was the hallmark of Petersburg high society.
It was difficult for an outsider to understand or come to terms with the Russian high aristocracy. Like their peers elsewhere, many of Petersburg's grandees were extremely proud. At its best such pride meant a shrinking from the servile flattery common in bureaucratic and, above all, court circles.
At its worst it entailed unlimited arrogance and heartbss self-indulgence. Some Russian aristocrats were not averse to remembering that their own families were older than the Romanovs and had participated in successful palace coups in the eighteenth-century 'golden age' of the Russian nobility.
Petersburg high society was always elegant and sophisticated. It was often sharp and witty. Of all Europe's nineteenth-century aristocracies, the Russians had produced by far the most renowned literary and musical figures. Taneev, was quite a well-known composer. Many aristocrats, as we have seen, regarded the last two generations of Romanovs as rather uncouth. Almost uniquely in Europe, Russian aristocrats had no equivalent of a House of Lords through which they could aspire to a political role and enjoy the entertainment, status and glory that such a chamber provided.
The aristocracy's civil rights were also not fully secure since the Russian state opened private correspondence and sometimes mistreated even members of the upper classes because of their religious views and activities. For a European aristocracy at the turn of the twentieth century all this seemed a shameful and humiliating relic of barbarism.
In addition, by the late nineteenth century agricultural depression and the growth of a powerful state bureaucracy were beginning to push the aristocracy to the margins of Russia's economy, government and society.
With rapid industrialization in the s this process speeded up. So too did aristocratic resentment and criticism. The Bavarian diplomat, Count Moy, recalls that the term 'bureaucrat' was the supreme insult in Petersburg high society in the s. The 'easily excited ladies of Petersburg society' were made so angry by reports of police repression that 'a good number of them took the side of the revolutionary elements'.
The Empress Marie had lived in Petersburg high society for decades and understood its ways. She shared its love for a constant round of luxurious and extravagant entertainments.
But Petersburg's aristocracy was by no means prepared to throw itself at the feet of the shy, aloof and in some ways rather gauche newcomer whose husband inherited the throne in The young Empress was ill-equipped by temperament to win this society's loyalty. She danced badly, was extremely shy and loathed large gatherings of strangers, at which she became stiff, cold and silent. Prince Serge Volkonsky, who as Director of the Imperial Theatres met Alix frequently in the s, commented that she was not affable; sociability was not in her nature.
Besides, she was painfully shy. She could only squeeze a word out with difficulty, and her face became suffused with red blotches. This characteristic added to her natural indisposition towards the race of man, and her wholesale mistrust of people, deprived her of the slightest popularity.
She was only a name, a walking picture. In her intercourse with others, she seemed only to be performing official duties; she never emitted a congenial spark. Quite unlike her mother-in-law, who was an expert in smoothing over awkward moments by her warmth and tact, Alix's combination of shyness and obstinacy made her extremely rigid. Even in trivial matters she seemed unwilling or unable to adapt herself to Petersburg society and its ways.
Volkonsky recalled that when Nicholas II came to the theatre or ballet alone, he would chatter away amiably. Alexandra Feodorovna evidently acted as a restraining influence on her husband. She was cold and composed. Her entrances and her exits were in pantomime. She never made an observation or uttered an opinion, or asked a question.
She had a high sense of the majesty of her husband's position and of the need to support and maintain it. Knowing only too well Nicholas's natural modesty and shyness, she understood how these were seen as weak and un-imperial qualities by much of Petersburg society. No doubt this accentuated her determination to uphold the monarch's dignity. In addition, however, the Empress was simply an Englishwoman in a very foreign land.
Nevertheless, as English consorts in very un-English countries, the two women had something in common. The Queen trod on many Spanish toes. Very much an English princess of the Victorian era, Victoria Eugenie enjoyed organizing charities and involving herself in activities which in Spain had always been the preserve of the Church. Faced with haemophiliac sons, a notoriously unfaithful husband and the harshly critical high society of Madrid, the Queen's very self-discipline, most prized of Victorian royal qualities, gained her 'a reputation of frigidity.
She was suspected of being all the things most Spaniards least admired: Gibbes, an Englishman who came to know both the Empress and Russia well, concluded that her unpopularity owed much to 'her want of a "theatrical" sense.
The theatrical instinct is so deep in Russian nature that one feels the Russians act their lives rather than live them.